By Caroline Worboys, CEO, Broadsystem
According to First Direct there are currently over 71 million active mobile phone handsets in the UK, with one in ten people owning four or more.
A decade ago there were just 13 million mobiles and a mere eight per cent of us owned more than one. These staggering growth statistics indicate as a nation just how mobile we have become.
The majority of us are now 'on call' or contactable 24 hours a day - less than a third of us turn our phones off at night. With this opening up of social accessibility comes the demand for 24-hour access to information.
We expect to be able to text a number and in return receive updates on train times, weather reports and football scores - all sent direct to our phones in real time.
Additionally, the mobile phone has also given us more of a voice. TV programmes, radio stations, newspapers and magazines now actively encourage real time feedback via text and as a result we have never have been more vocal.
Consequently the UK is one of the World-leading countries in terms of the broader social acceptance of SMS as a vehicle to respond and interact with marketers. This can be largely attributed to the lessons learnt by the consumer backlash against SMS marketing experienced in the 1990s.
Profligate texting by advertisers sparked consumer rage over lack of targeting, meaning that many large brands, such as McDonalds, dropped SMS from the marketing mix.
In the long term however this has proved positive, as marketers were forced to return to the drawing board and determine exactly how SMS could become a trusted and effective communication vehicle.
Evolving the usage of SMS as a CRM tool has meant that mobile marketing has flourished, with increasing numbers of brand marketers realising that integrating an SMS component into a campaign can not only boost the bottom line but also importantly give access to new markets.
It was found that mobile networks are opening up countries traditionally difficult to reach given the less sophisticated nature of the infrastructure for mail based communications.
For example countries such as Greece, Slovenia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa and Malaysia raised significant funds for the Tsunami through mobile marketing. SMS fundraising went from nothing to 21 per cent of the total money donated globally via SMS.
To give some examples of the global reach of mobile, China had over 449 million phone users at the end of last year. China Mobile, the world's largest mobile operator, has itself surpassed the total population of the USA, with a subscriber base of 301 million customers.
The number of handset users in China is expected to rise to 660 million by 2010. As a result it is potentially the biggest 3G mobile market of the world. Moreover, the advent of 3G will have a strong impact on mobile marketing in China, enhancing the capabilities of how marketers can communicate with consumers.
Brazil's mobile market is the fifth largest in the world behind China, the United States, Japan and Russia. While Brazil is a smaller market than China, its total penetration for mobile usage is higher, at 50 per cent versus 30 per cent.
This combined with the fact that Brazil is the tenth largest market in the world in terms of internet usage, indicates the voracity for digital growth, providing a number of opportunities for mobile marketers.
Clearly privacy is an issue for consumers the world over. Whilst targeting is essential for all direct marketing, given the personal nature of a mobile phone it is vital for SMS marketing.
Ideally marketers must build up a relationship first with consumer before introducing SMS into the mix, and then using it as a response mechanism or as a way to enhance the customer experience such as updates and notifications. Without prior mobile contact between a company and brand it's very easy for promotional messages to over step the boundary into the realms of irrelevance and intrusion.
Generally people's acceptance of mobile and their willingness to embrace it has, across the globe, far exceeded the pace at which the internet was accepted. There is therefore enormous scope for brands looking to communicate with consumers, wherever they might live.
As mobile penetration continues to grow, mobile marketing increasingly is teetering on the cusp of becoming a mainstream, global marketing tool. However, for it to continue to flourish it’s essential that brands understand the medium - both its strengths, but more importantly its pitfalls.
Otherwise conceivably marketers could lose the power of the largest communication revolution of all time as a marketing vehicle.
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